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History of Medicine Collections at the University of Colorado

Emily Epstein
University of Colorado Health Sciences Library
Aurora, Colorado

 The James J. Waring, M.D., History of Medicine and Health Sciences Collections of the Health Sciences Library at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus contain approximately 1700 volumes divided into two collections, a circulating collection and the Rare Materials Collection, which does not circulate. Both contain titles in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, and biology, reflecting the history of the health sciences and the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus.

The Waring Collection consists of approximately 7,000 modern works on all aspects of the history of medicine and related fields, plus works on medical topics published between 1876 and 1913 that do not require the special handling of rare materials. The Waring Collection resides in the Special Collections Room, along with the Indigenous Medicine and the Medical Humanities Collections. In addition to the usual library seating, the room has comfortable chairs, natural light, and a view of the Rocky Mountains.

A Civil War era surgical kit

A Civil War era surgical kit from our artifacts collection

The Rare Materials Collection consists of nearly 10,000 volumes, plus photographs, over 150 artifacts dating from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, and a few archival materials. These items, because of age, value, or rarity requiring special handling and security,  are housed in a secure temperature- and humidity-controlled area adjacent to the Special Collections Room, and are available for use by appointment.

Most of the collection is printed material. Just under half are journals, which were transferred from the stacks when the library moved to the new building in 2007. The rest are 15th– through 20th-century books, mostly 19th-century.  Subject strengths include tuberculosis, respiratory medicine, cardiology, and homeopathy.  The collection has grown primarily by gift, especially from doctors James Waring, Gerald Webb, Charles Denison, and Florence Sabin.

Plant Image

Datura stramonium – Plate from Bigelow’s American Medical Botany (1817-20)

Plant Image

Asclepias tuberosa – Plate from Bigelow’s American Medical Botany (1817-20)

The oldest item in the collection is part of a Latin translation of Avicenna (1483). The collection also has the 1st  (1543) and 2nd (1555) editions of Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, as well as Govard Bidloo’s Anatomia Humani Corporis (1685). Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany (1817-20) is another beautiful book, which is also important both for its subject and as an early example of printed color illustration. Other treasures include Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, (1665) and William Withering’s An Account of the Foxglove (1785), and first editions of Beaumont’s Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice  (1833),  Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing (1859), and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species  (1859).

Image of skull

The frontispiece from Fox’s Natural History and Diseases of the Human Teeth (1833)

drawing of cork cells

A picture of cork cells from Hooke’s Micrographia (1665)

The library is open to the general public, as well as the university community. About half the users of rare materials are from off-campus, and items in the circulating collection can be borrowed through interlibrary loan and the Colorado/Wyoming union catalog, Prospector. If they are in good enough condition, rare materials can be photocopied or scanned for ILL, with a limit of 15 pages from any single item. All items in the circulating collection can be located through the library’s catalog, as can over half of the rare collection, and more items are cataloged as time permits. Artifacts are listed on the library’s web site (, with pictures in the library’s new digital repository, and the photograph collection is being added to the repository in a digitization project.

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